Life Optimisation


December 20, 2020

When all you’ve got is the hammer of mathematics, everything looks like an optimisation problem, you just need to choose the right objective function. So what should the objective function be for life? People today in general have much more means and much more freedom (i.e. fewer constraints in the solution space) than many of their ancestors, so what should we optimise?

A study from Daniel Kahneman and the economist Angus Deaton says High income improves evaluation of life but not emotional well being. Optimising income doesn’t optimise ones own happiness, but it does increase one’s satisfaction with their own life. Kahneman observes that people tend to maximise their own satisfaction, which is based on comparisons with people they consider peers. We don’t really optimise for happiness, which is often fleeting and forgotten.

It shows the kind of creature we are where our own success is doing better than our peers, even in situations where there’s enough resources to go around. Success is often defined by our peers, parents or upbringing as well; what our society values. I’m not aware of a way to develop your own goals, independent of society.

Another argument is reproduction is what we should be optimising. From an evolutionary standpoint people who don’t reproduce don’t have children, and so their genes aren’t going to make it to the next generation. This doesn’t mean we should optimise it though, it’s almost a diagnosis.

In a way it’s sad to me in this freedom and wealth many people live in, they’re still focused on satisfaction and proving their worth to other people.